Minnesota bridges ‘structurally deficient’ as lawmakers consider budget

Bridge safety is front and center since the Baltimore bridge collision and collapse last week.

Minnesota has a long list of "structurally deficient" bridges across the state - 582 to be exact, designated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The silver lining is that the number has fallen in each of the last few FHWA reports dating back at least to 2015. And they’re not considered unsafe yet, but they need work soon.

Meanwhile, legislators are negotiating major spending on infrastructure.

Minnesotans have stood in Baltimore’s shoes before -- between a barge collision on the Mississippi River in Winona six years ago and the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 near downtown Minneapolis.

"When we see a situation like the accident in Baltimore Harbor - and much closer to home here on I-35W and then, down in Winona, we were down there years back when we had to close that bridge - this is just aging infrastructure," said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Monday.

Walz is now making a pitch for his $982 million recommended budget to fund infrastructure work, but bridges are just one piece of the puzzle.

The governor toured the State Patrol headquarters in Oakdale Monday while proposing $22 million to lay the groundwork for a more modern facility.

"Our people deserve better than what we have for space," said Col. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol.

But some of the bridges they patrol are potentially dangerous.

Every day, 92,000 people cross Cliff Road on an I-35W bridge deemed structurally deficient.

Another 39,000 travel Highway 55 over back-to-back structurally deficient bridges over Franklin and Cedar.

The state has identified needed repairs on more than 2,500 bridges and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) asked for $100 million in this year’s bonding bill to start fixing them. The governor’s pitch to legislators was for $40 million. 

"They're right," said Gov. Walz. "There's more to be done… We're kind of triaging in a non-budget year, come back next year and attack it. I think the good news is the federal infrastructure spending that's coming."

Minnesota will get more than $300 million for bridges from the federal infrastructure law passed in 2021, which could help make a dent in the repairs, but MnDOT leaders knew that when they asked the state for an extra $100 million.